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Are you a better interviewee than a fourth grader?

May 10, 2017


Last week, I had the pleasure of “job interviewing” some students at my daughter's school as part of one of her class’ activities. While I had originally volunteered simply to help out, I ended up with so many insights about interviewing talent development and poise. I was amazed how much 9-year olds had to teach me (and hopefully you)!

When you're enthusiastic about an organization or position, it shows!

I was immediately amazed at the impact of a cheerful introduction. Not every kid smiled (though every kid was adorable), but those that did built rapport and differentiated themselves in a good way. Now, I get that kids are in school, so many won't feel enthusiastic to meet more grown-ups and feel like they're being tested yet again. In the same way, job interviews are stressful, and our clients often note numerous other things they would rather be doing than a job interview. However, it is a necessary step. A few simple suggestions to enhance your impact on the interviewer:

Be ready with a smile: It immediately disarms all but the most contentious of interviewers, is often contagious, and conveys confidence. And research shows it boosts your health.

Offer a confident handshake: People used to recommend a "strong" handshake. Unfortunately, that often led people into a test of brute-force when meeting for the first time, sweaty palms, or awkwardness that conveyed lack of authenticity. By all means, practice your handshake. Just focus on conveying relaxed confidence, rather than treating it like an Olympic sport. My best ones with the kids had direct eye contact.

Invest in words, even the short ones: The difference between "yeah" and "yes" was striking. The former conveyed disinterest and resignation to one's fate, while the latter was confident, usually accompanied by eye contact and examples. I love kids, but found myself more engaged with the ones that used more confident words.

The Power of Examples

"So, what would make you a good communications director?" I asked one of the kids, who was hoping to manage communications for the "city" the kids would be organizing. What followed was a detailed discussion of his years of experience video editing, coding, and online learning. In fact, he emphasized how different online techniques helped him learn. Suddenly, I could imagine him in the role!

Storytelling, using clear, concise examples is something we coach people to master at all stages of their career. We all have adjectives we associate with ourselves, and tend to think of our accomplishments around those adjectives (i.e. I'm "analytical", "outgoing", "inspirational", or "detail-oriented"). Unfortunately, the larger the candidate pool you're a part of, the more likely those adjectives blend together. Providing specific examples related to your adjectives (i.e. "I once created and edited a 25MB spreadsheet with hundreds of thousands of cells in two weeks, helping save a client $100 million") is a more memorable way to communicate "I'm detail-oriented and analytical". Examples help set you apart from others.

Mastering a Compliment

My favorite kids were the ones who mentioned others when talking about their own successes. One young girl talked about how much it meant to her when someone taught her how to play basketball (which she hadn’t previously liked), which motivated her to coach others in different areas at school. Suddenly, I could imagine her working well with others on a team (no small feat, even for adults). The key to providing examples is authenticity…if you try too hard, it will do more harm than good.

A Learning Opportunity for All

In the end, some kids got the jobs they applied for while others settled for second or third choices. Interview preparation seemed to impact the results. However, all of them handled the activity with composure, and reminded me of some simple things we can all do to improve the chances of landing top choices for our own job interviews!